Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 76: Out With A Whimper

And thus ended the career of Rod Philips, the iconic voice behind the Oilers play-by-play, and probably one of the more beloved of the sports figures in Edmonton. The Oilers predicatably were about as awful as you'd expect a team half-filled with puck-butchers and refrigerators on skis. The Oklahoma Edmonton Oilers had about as much pop as bubblewrap made of jello and aside from a few bright spots it was hell beamed into an Oiler fans brain via photons.

The afformentioned bright spots were the Finnisher Harski (there is almost a team in Teemu) and of course Steve MacIntyre Magnus Paajarvi (of course I go the whole season without using the old 'strike-through-the-obvious-sarcasm-online-text-joke' and now you get it twice in two paragraphs). Paajarvi is a guy who can really wheel with the puck, and once he starts edging into the scoring horseshoe with his progressively larger frame, nothing but good can happen.

Harski is a different kind of player altogether from the quicksilver PRV. He's a lot more closed fist to Paajarvi's karate chop. You can see he already has a cro-magnon frame and is not shy in using it either. Renney was quoted by Ferraro (still one of the better color guys in the game today), with Renney saying something to the effect that Hartikainen had 'crust'. Some of the Pat Quinn brain parasite got into Renney's head obviously but regardless it's not a terrible way to talk about the Finnish kid. He combines the exuberance with two other vitally important traits. He drives the puck to the net with the utmost alacrity and does it with above average puck skills. I for one can't wait to see what the Finnisher can do with a solid lineup and some meaningful games.

I have voiced several concerns about current Oiler personnel over the season but I'd like to reiterate a few:
  • Jean Francious Jacques is not an NHLer. Of forwards who have played at least 40 games this season, his Points per 60 minutes (P/60) is 0.97, or 319 of 356. That's Scott Gomez/Krystofer Barch territory ladies and gentleman (yes, Gomez is that bad this year).
  • Steve MacIntyre is not an NHLer. Of forwards who have played at least 20 games this season, his Points per 60 minutes (P/60) is 0.59, or 408 of 427. He's hanging with Colton Orr/Tom Wandell.
  • Colin Fraser is not an NHLer. Of forwards who have played at least 60 games this year, his Points per 60 minutes (P/60) is 0.49 or 271 of 272 (if you wanna know who is worse, it is the Toddy 'the-hockey-reaper-cometh' Marchant who once scored 60 P's with the Oil). He plays versus dregs and has a terrible Corsi Rel. He's looked like an NHLer in the past but I'm thinking that was a fluke outlier.
I'm not going to bother with the individual write-up for different players. The kids were alright, and the AHLers looked like AHLers. What an abysmal last game for Rod to call. Someone pull the life support!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 69: Referees Smoking Doobz

One of the advantages of being outside the orbit of mainstream media is the clear ability to cuss and speak ones mind without fear of being censored or reprimanded. Coaches and newspaper writers do not have this luxury, so allow me to be their voice on this night: the reffing was fucking bullshit.

If someone can explain the Brule call or the Jones roughing call, I'd love to hear some plausible explanations that don't involve brain parasites from the planet Xorcon7 having some fun with sports select. The travesty on the broken stick slash where the Oilers clearly had possession was also bush league, as was the Ericsson push near the end of the game that was clearly interference. The hockey gods clearly wish to punish us and make us turn from the team.

The shenanigans by Devorski and Pochmara overshadowed a nearly perfect night for Dubnyk ruined by another night(mare) for Cogliano when O' Glowing One Above decided to smack another 50 foot-pounds of ugly into his already ridiculous lips. He keeps up this pace of mouth-damage and he will have enough space to store acorns in there during our long, ugly winters. But back to the Big Easy: he was once again carved from granite and I just can't help but think he can be a top flight goalie when he doesn't have Ladislav Smid as his number 2 defenceman (respect to my Czechoslovakian boy who don't take no shit around his goalies crease). Teams seem to have this idea if they get a little tricky around his feet that he's going to start leaking down below like a derelict pirate ship. It was also comical to see Holmstrom attempt to screen Dubnyk. The Ol' Giraffe neck could completely ignore Homstrom and simply focus on the puck, considering he had about a half foot over the screen. Normally I hate the behind-the-net TSN cam on powerplays, but it gave the comedic view of Holmstrom's ineffective screen, and thus some small sliver of joy to an Oilers fan in hockey purgatory.

Jones was a force on the night, and even though his goal was a basket of weak sauce, he was full marks for just careening around the ice and getting involved. I'm having a hard time figuring out why his relative Corsi is so junk, as it doesn't seem like he's such a huge culprit for shots against. I suspect it's the fact that with the team depth getting even worse after Gagner's suicide attempt, he simply does not have any outshooters to play with (not that he ever did though). I'm hoping his underlying numbers start improving so I can reconcile what my eyes are telling me with what my brain is analyzing in his micro-stats. His shooting percentage also remains freakishly high. Don't forget, though, guys with a Glencross-like skill set seem to shoot the puck with high percentage for whatever reason (both guys are career ~13% shooters).

Paajarvi and Brule also had good games, especially Brule, who is all of a sudden looking more like the player that signed the two-year extension. Even when he's not flashing his heavy shot, he's got a good amount of gumption to bring to the table, and while I'm certainly not sold on any long term results from the pint-size puncher, he's playing well right now and will probably have a prominent role as the Oilers take that slow, painful journey into the long goodnight. Paajarvi reminds me so much of Hossa and Modano when he moves. Modano was on the ice and seeing those two skating together I truly think that Paajarvi is on his level in terms of raw skating ability. If you want a pie-in-the-sky comparable, Modano would be a good place to start. PRV had 5 shots in 18:44 of ice time and his last two games he's had the most NHL ice time of his young career. I'm hoping we keep on seeing the baby steps forward every night now, and perhaps soon his instincts will start carrying him into the center of the ice a bit more often.

According to a Tencer tweet Renney had the following to say after the game:
"Damn proud of our hockey club tonight."
Pretty spot on, as usual, Renney. He might not line match enough for my liking, but he certainly says the right things at the right times.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 66: Ragtag Results

An apt description of the Oilers current lineup
After sucking marrow at the bottom of the NHL bone pile, the Oilers have finally (for the moment) climbed out of the 30th spot to the clearly more respectable 29th overall spot. The win also gives the Oilers 7 of their last 10, and not only against jobber teams; they have faced teams battling for their playoff lives and looked good doing it. Explanations as for the Oilers recent success are not easy, especially considering we've recently lost almost all of our high end offence due to injury or trade. You could go with the trusty 'the call-ups are stepping up because of the opportunity afforded them' but I'd say it's just as likely this is a natural fluctuation of both the Oilers execution and the one-ice puckluck.

It's pretty clear that after being basically a 35% win-rate team for most of the season, suddenly doubling that to 70% is as likely to be a function of luck as it is ability, but certainly the Oilers have been upping their RPM's. They have been simplifying their game to match the incoming minor league talent - it's almost like enforcing simplicity in everyone's game has made even the veterans more effective as well.

In terms of the victory vs. the Avs, there were plenty of players who had strong games, from the goaltender on up to Captain Corsi. Dubnyk has just been a ceaseless rock face for something like 127 hours now, and the small pessimist inside me is trying to find chinks in the Dubnyk progression-project to help deflate the notion that he can be a number 1 next year. So far I haven't really figured it out. He's a young, inexperienced goaltender who not only has been playing like a veteran, but also playing well too. His .914 ranks 24th in the league, and I'd say this is also impressive since he's putting that kind of number up on a team that is 29th in goal differential. If the Oilers could receive consistent .910+ goaltending next year, it certainly would go a long way towards fighting for a playoff spot (something unlikely but certainly possible).

On the other end of the ice, Elliot is the picture of inconsistency. His .893 ranks 42nd in the league, and for some unexplainable reason, this is a guy who has gotten 47 starts this year. Budaj is not much better (39th in the league), but riding Elliot is a total mystery to me - sort of like the Anderson trade was. Anderson is a guy with a proven track record of being able to hit a high water mark, at least for a time, and this is something that Elliot has never really done (.909 in 57 gp last year was alright I guess, but not spectacular).

The Oilers two main offensive lines looked pretty good all night, especially he who turns it on when the season is over. Like we've seen countless times before, when Gagner is late in the season, he can seemingly access another gear. This of course begs the obvious question: why not earlier? We're probably entering how to get the caramilk in the caramilk bar territory, so I'll leave it at that for now, but regardless he played a strong game on the night. Gagner, Jones, and Omark were cycling the puck well all night, and combined for 5 shots and 2-4-6 +2. I know that Ryan Jones has been sporting an ugly Corsi Rel (-11.7, 14th among forwards), but his shooting percentage is only 1.5% over his (short) career average, perhaps indicating he can be a high percentage NHL shooter over his travels in the big league. He's also been paired with guys who don't outshoot a lot, so perhaps we'll see this value migrate north as long as he maintains his spot higher in the rotation.

PRV played a strong game, which included a great cross ice pass to Horcoff for his one timer goal. Speaking of Corsi Rel, PRV was at -7.5 on January 21, and he has managed to get that mark to -1.5, indicating he is starting to drive possession a bit more. Surely that's been helped with him playing with better linemates since Jan. 21, but I also think that observationally he has continued to mature as an NHLer, and we are finally seeing a bit less of PRV flubbing pucks in the offensive zone. His ability to move on the ice really reminds me of Hossa, but with a bit lower end technical skill when the puck is on his stick. I'm not sure how much improvement we will see in this regard over his career but at the very least he will be a bigger, stronger Marchant which should allow him to best Marchant's 20-40-60 season in his prime.

Thankfully there is some decent padding between 29th and 28th (5 points), so if the Oilers decide to go on a bit of a winning streak there is still some space before they really start screwing themselves over draft-pick wise.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 65: The Spirit of The Moose

Once again the boys in blue were thrown into the arena versus another desperate Western team clawing for the handful of points they need to get back into the race. The Blue Jackets began the game with a cohesive attack, jumping out to a fairly quick 9-0 shot advantage and I'm sure I was not the only one who wondered if we'd finally see a team walk into our barn and punish us with their playoff-level determination.

Fortunately for the Oilers, they bent but did not break, and the flow of play reversed. Mason decided to put in another effort that seemed to channel the ghosts of Jim Carey, the one time Vezina winning goaltender who quickly crashed and burned out the NHL after a strong first 100 or so games.

There was also another spirit channeled on the night, as the Oilers future star, Taylor Hall, had phantasmal skeins of Messier-like presence dripping off his frame. His first goal was a complete muff-job by Mason, but it still does not go in unless Taylor Hall absolutely scorches the puck into Mason's 14 hole. Shades of Messier, except Messier liked to snipe from his off wing. Taylor Hall's shot velocity might be the best on the Oilers (although Brule has a heavy shot as well), and in a surprisingly lucid moment, Debrusk pointed out that Hall probably doesn't even fully utilize the strength of his own shot (yea, I paraphrased his gobbledygook). He shoots quite a bit already, but I imagine there is nothing mechanically or athletically speaking that should prevent him from hitting 40 with a competent pass-first center.

In terms of the Hall fight, I love it. He decided enough of Dorsett's smurfy crap, and Hall launched a little preemptive strike on Dorsett's face after the pair had exchanged a few hacks and chops. Of course the ankle twist as he went down was a total bummer (somehow we've lost our top three scorers in the space of like two games), but like Renney says, good for him. When Hall shows the league that he's going to be no ones bitch, he will certainly clear a little extra space for himself. This will especially be true as he invariably bulks up and starts swapping baby lipids for adult muscle. If he continues to ramp up the physical game I really feel like he could become a true top 10 forward in the league.

One more thing about fighting though: if Taylor Hall has to throw down more than a couple of times a season, there is something wrong with the makeup of the hockey team. For the record, Messier recorded 10 fights (almost universally against bigger opponents) in his rookie year, but for the vast majority of his career, he engaged fisticuffs only once or twice a season. He was definitely a decent fighter, though.

Rounding out the winning cast on the night is my favorite 6'6 goaltender Devan Dubnyk. He faced 15 scoring chances in the game including a couple of tough, point blank chances, and was calm and cool as he seems to always be these days. I think a lot has to do with Dubnyk feeling confident; I really don't think he questions whether or not he is an NHL caliber goaltender any more. The Upshall goal was perhaps one that Dubbie wanted back, but it was an in tight 5-hole shot with decent velocity. Simple physics dictates that taller goalies will take longer to get both knees down to the ice, as I've noticed guys like Pekka Rinne giving up similar goals. I'm not really sure if an ultra tall goalie is really at a disadvantage on five hole shots, but it's an interesting concept at least. He finished 26-28, or .929, and his .911 overall save percentage is 29th in the league. Barely a starter, but let's not forget he's had a few nights of Strudwick ass in his face.

Thoughts on some individuals after the hop.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 and Godwin's Law

Recently Coppernblue posted an article that was supposedly the emotional heartbeat of the Oilers nation. It's here if you are interested. For the most part it is an expression of anger, mostly at the management spiderweb that, for some at least, is sucking the life out of the Edmonton Oilers franchise. It's an opinion piece, and there isn't really much to say about an opinion you don't share yourself. Certainly I understand the thrust of his discontent, and in fact I'm not much of a Tambellini lover. From the moment he made the Khabibulin trade I had a sneaking suspicion his ham-fisted, pasty-skinned persona was going to manifest in his god-like GM's hand. The Teubert trade was similarly not my favorite move, but I didn't advocate burning things down either.

It's a gamble any time a GM trades proven players for picks and prospects, especially when the prospects have some warts and the player is a proven puck-potter. I have to say I do have a bit of gamble in me, so even though I don't really like the trade (couldn't we wait till next deadline, and try to sign him in the meantime?), I can appreciate that it's not the end of the world.

This is all beside the point, except to state that in many ways I agree with the basic editorial line taken by the website: Tambellini has not been efficient, and the right move was not to move Penner for magic beans. So anyways, I read the article, decide against posting something along the lines of 'I agree but less fervently' - I've made similar comments before and because I'm not nasty enough, rarely do they elicit any response. Then I come across a comment I don't particularly care for:

The universal winky smiley shows that clearly it's a good natured ribbing. I mean he's a TO fan (my least favorite team), and he's dog-piling on Tambo on an Oilers site. I'm pretty sure that's a picture perfect example of trolling if I've ever seen it. But we'll get into that. I'm thinking to myself ha-ha I made a funny and what if my boogers were flavored (you know typical thoughts of incandescent genius) when I come across his second troll in the thread:
So not only is he trolling again, he's also trolling an Oiler fan who clearly has an alternate opinion to Benjamin's rant. So I figure, let's give him a gentle ribbing again; think of it as a reminder that he's in enemy territory - or so I thought anyways. Now you would see my second reply to PPP in the image above if it hadn't been deleted by a Coppernblue mod. It went something like:
You could say the same thing about Burke ;)
Notice the strategically placed winky-smiley that once again indicated the playful nature of my jest. Some background to this first: PPP runs the TO blog, the father affiliation of Coppernblue. Whether that affects his status on an Oilers blog, I have no idea, although clearly it shouldn't. In other words PPP is as likely of being a child-murdering rape-engine as I am.

Then... Shit started getting a little Nazi up in the Coppernblue.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 64: Unsung Heroes

He also destabilizes world economies and kills
ducks in tailing ponds
Like the superhero on the right, sometimes the Oilers just have to win greasy. We have really floppy center depth, and when Strudwick is getting top 6 minutes, there is very little chance of outshooting any opponent in the league. So the Oil had to get a little greasy and tough one out against a surpisingly complacent Nashville Predators team that is fighting for its playoff life. I say that because even though the Oilers got boondocked on the shot clock, the chances actually weren't that disparate: 17-15 for the Preds, while the shot clock was 35-26 for the Preds.

Considering Nashville is in a jam worse than Wesley Snipes' accountant, I was surprised that their level fell considerably in the third period. Not even a pep-talk rally from ol' Trotz seemed to shake the funk out of the Preds game, as the Oilers handily out-shot and -chanced the Predators from the third period onward.

A couple of disappointing notes from the postgame:
  •  Hemsky left in the third with a shoulder injury; luckily Renney has stated that He believes it is a minor injury
  • Ottawa lost one-zip to the Bruins, meaning the Oilers gained ground on Ottawa
  • Gerber continues to look better, cheaper, and younger than Khabibulin
In terms of individuals, I would probably single out 4 players for positive contributions: Gerber, Petiot, Brule, and Vandermeer. Vandermeer was most definitely my Oilers MVP for the night, and not just for his rubber-rocket goal. Vandermeer was asserting himself all over the ice and every once and a while I even consider the strange and unnatural thought of bringing him back to fill Strudwick's spot for next season. Petiot, on the other hand, looked like he had been in the lineup since season start, and from his very first touch on the puck you could see he was a more effective passer and defender than Strudwick has been for years. Gerber was strong, and while he sometimes looks very unorthodox both in his positioning and in actually making saves, that 'just stop it' style was working wonders for him versus the uninspired counter-punch strategy the Preds employ.

There was plenty wrong with the Oilers effort tonight, though. The wee ones were off until the end of the game, and especially Hall did not seem to have any cohesive touches on the puck. Eberle was a bit better, but the line as a whole finished -2 with 3 shots. Renney said specifically after the game:
Collectively they haven't been what they need to be. As a trio they need to be better.
They've had some off games before, and it seems teams with powerful backends and grinding styles are effective in shutting the trio down. Shea Weber was all over Hall tonight, and it really takes strong, close puck-support to get results against powerful defenders like Weber. Normally that's exactly what the diminutive trio is excellent at: close puck support. They're still learning I guess.

It was a big of an ugly win, but a more up-tempo 3rd and OT combined with a slick Omark special in the shootout at least gave the average watcher some small pleasure by games end.

Individuals after the hop.